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The Pelicans, Zion & Lonzo: Can They Stay Together?

It will most likely come down to nickels and dimes...lots and lots of nickels and dimes...

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Oklahoma City Thunder
 Dec 31, 2020; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball (2) celebrates after forward Zion Williamson (1) scores against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Duke fans have a lot of options when it comes to the NBA: Kyrie Irving, Jason Tatum and Zion Williamson are just some of the stars that Blue Devil fans get to follow and pull for.

One of the interesting off-season things to watch is how the Pelicans begin to shape their team around Williamson’s unique talents.

Lonzo Ball, who will be a free agent this summer, has gone on record as saying he’d like to stay, and Williamson would like him to as well, but that might not be so easy. The Pelicans biggest talent is clearly Williamson and his skill set has begun to overlap with Ball’s. More importantly, so will his contract.

Some big market teams have major payrolls. The Nets, for instance, pay James Harden more than 41 M, Kevin Durant more than $40 M, and Kyrie Irving gets just under 32 M. Philly pays Tobias Harris over #34 M, Ben Simmons gets more than $30 M and Joel Embiid makes just under $30 M. The Lakers pay LeBron James just under $40 M and Anthony Davis (why does AD not wear #80?) around $33 M.

The Pelicans currently have Steven Adams at roughly $30 M, Brandon Ingram at around $27 M and Eric Bledsoe and James Johnson both make around $16 M.

If Jaxon Hayes turns out, we’d cut Adams and his salary loose. He has his charms but he’s making nearly as much as Irving and Embeed. In what world does that make sense?

We’d also seriously think about letting Bledsoe (31) and Johnson (34) go. That would free up about $62 million which would most likely cover Williamson and Ball.

That said, we’re just basing that on the higher end salaries and know nothing about the art of the salary cap. It’s hard to imagine that you couldn’t replace Adams and Johnson though.

Whatever happens, New Orleans will need an 18 wheeler to carry the amount of money Williamson will command. There’s already anxiety, for instance, that he may pine to be a Knick, and the big market teams are going to be ready to write essentially blank checks to secure his services. And it wouldn’t surprise us at all if he liked the idea of joining forces with RJ Barrett in New York.

On the other hand, Williamson is a guy who sincerely bonds with his teammates and fans and it probably wouldn’t be easy for him to walk away unless he has a beef. If New Orleans wants to keep him, that probably means two things: returning his loyalty in real and substantive ways, and putting guys around him that can help maximize his unique talents and push the team towards elite status.

Which may make keeping Ball is important.